What’s the price of great story telling?

At this point in the gaming industry, the majority of gamers know Telltale. They are the company responsible for creating the once game of the year The Walking Dead, the critically acclaimed Tales from the Borderlands, the well-received Game of Thrones, the newly released Batman, and plenty more interesting titles. The reason Telltale is so successful, too, lies in their ability to spin incredible tales. The finale of season one of The Walking Dead was the reason that I first fell in love with Telltale.

But what’s the cost of weaving excellent exposition? To me – and most gamers who’ve experienced a Telltale game – the cost of narrative construction is quite noticeably a lack of gameplay polish. Telltale games make their money on offering players a collection of choices throughout each of their five episode games – choices that, allegedly, strongly impact the remainder of the narrative. Speckled into the story and choices is a series of quick time events that must be completed successfully to advance the game.

Walking Dead TellTale

And this is where Telltale games display their biggest faults. Often, and on each console that I’ve experienced one of their titles on, the games stutter, freeze, and skip. A simple push of a joystick (or swipe of a screen) to move your character out of danger can be missed due to technical difficulties, resulting in game over. Fortunately, Telltale has an autosave system built in that restarts you close to where you died (though sometimes it sets you back to the beginning of an action sequence). Even then, the games often need too much time to ‘buffer’, meaning that the restart point is actually too late, and you’re sometimes incapable of completing any QTE sequence due to loading issues.

The second issue I’ve come to experience is the premature chopping of dialogue. As a result of the aforementioned loading issues, solid chunks of dialogue are truncated. I recently started Tales from the Borderlands, and I completely love the experience; however, I had to turn on subtitles (something I never do) in order to guarantee I didn’t miss any dialogue. You see, in a Telltale game, every line of conversation is crucial. Every single word can influence your choices, which, therefore, influence the outcome of the narrative. So if I miss half of what a certain character tells me, how am I able to make a choice that genuinely reflects what I actually want to do?

Fiona and Rhys TftB

Thirdly, and perhaps the most grievous of Telltale issues, is the occasional game breaking glitch. I love a good narrative, which is why I love Telltale games (yes, even after these issues). I love a good novel; I’m a heavy reader. One problem – call it a character flaw, perhaps – that I often find myself pressed with is that I simply cannot read something twice. The whole experience often fades for me when I’m required to read a text twice, and the same applies for a game. So when I trudged halfway through The Walking Dead Season 2 on my PlayStation Vita and came across a game breaking glitch that did not allow me to progress the story, I nearly quit Telltale games altogether.

In fact, it wasn’t until about a week ago, when Gamefly had Tales from the Borderlands on sale for about $8.79 that I decided I’d risk playing another Telltale game. By all accounts, I’m sure glad I did – I absolutely love the experience of Tales from the Borderlands (I’m a huge Borderlands fan as it is). But this feature has been inspired by the consistent flaws and technical issues I’ve had to overcome. I truly believe that Telltale Games could win accolades more often if they could iron out these technical errors.

Batman Telltale

So what’s the point of this piece? Part of it is to complain, sure. Part of it is to express my admiration for what Telltale does with their games. Most importantly, this is a disclaimer to those interested in Telltale games and have heard horror stories. Let me tell you: If you are able to get past the technical flaws of any given Telltale game (and understand the type of gameplay you’ll be experiencing), you’ll absolutely have a fantastic time. I’m also recently informed that (by our fantastic BitCultures editor, Peter) the new Batman Telltale game has ironed out a good portion of these issues. If you’ve never played a Telltale game but enjoy a good, story driven experience and have the patience to overcome any technical obstacles, please, do yourself a favor and try one out.